code red addresses a subject that affects more than half of the human population but which is often rejected and stigmatized. The short puts menstruation, aka period, at the center of a coming-of-age story that has relevance beyond adolescence and college. Menstrual poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education and hygiene facilities for those who experience an event as natural as breathing, but which has too often been viewed as “dirty” and ” unsightly”. The film uses characters and symbols to push back shame in a vibrant and comedic way.
Written and directed by Ringling College of Art and Design Film graduate Jada Wing Hang Poon, code red tells the story of a hectic afternoon in the life of a sixth-grade student named Karman who gets her period for the first time in class. What follows is an adventure to get a sanitary napkin so she can get on with her day. Such a simple task turns out to be more difficult than it seems, as the film shines a light on the lack of access to menstrual products for girls in schools and women around the world.
Although code red isn’t a feature film, it packs quite a punch in its audacity regarding the technicalities of a period. The vibrant energy of the young cast is reflected in the atmosphere and colors seen on screen. This includes the display of blood itself. This might seem like an obvious inclusion given the topic, but keep in mind that for decades TV commercials selling sanitary napkins and tampons often used the color blue instead of red to symbolize blood. As if the actual natural color coming from a woman’s body is too outrageous for the general public. Director Poon doesn’t shy away from showing the blood, and that small act in itself goes a long way.
It’s a funny short film with a lot of charm. It sounds like something close to an after-school special, but we know there are parts of our country that wouldn’t dare be shown on regular television. The cast is young, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a tale just for young people. It’s a story that will resonate with many, as it’s an issue that affects millions of people around the world.
According to a study by BMC Women’s Health, approximately 500 million menstruating people suffer from a lack of access to menstrual products and hygiene facilities. In a world where the wealth gap between rich and poor is widening every day, it’s no surprise that this lack of access often affects those in the working class and on low incomes.
A 2019 survey by Reuters Health found that nearly two-thirds of low-income women in the United States could not afford menstrual products. Half of those who took part in the survey noted that they sometimes had to choose between buying food or items needed to cope with their period.
Around the world, and particularly in the United States, this problem is amplified by the fact that tampons and other menstrual products are not considered “essential” and are therefore charged sales tax when purchased. This is in stark contrast to other items considered essential health purchases, such as prescriptions, some over-the-counter medications, toilet paper, condoms, and groceries.
To put that into perspective, the drug Viagra, an erectile dysfunction drug used by men, isn’t taxed in any state except Illinois, but menstrual products primarily used by women are taxed in 31 states nationwide.
Combining this example with the fact that recent studies have shown that products marketed to women are generally more expensive than those marketed to men, it is clear that there is a gender disparity. And things have only gotten worse given the current shortage of tampons.
The latest products affected by supply chain issues intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation are tampons. While manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Edgewell Personal Care blame the shortage on various vague issues like lack of raw materials and workers, what isn’t vague is rising prices. According to NielsenIQ, tampons and sanitary napkin wrappers saw their prices increase by 9.8% and 8.3% respectively in May this year. This has put a strain not only on individuals, but also on non-profit organizations that provide menstrual products to those in need.
The Pink Tax Repeal Act, introduced by Representative Jackie Speier, which would ban the practice of charging higher prices based on ‘gender for goods and services’ has yet to pass despite being introduced in 2019. This contrasts with the legislation passed quickly. in a number of states in recent years that impose restrictions on a woman’s right to choose abortion and access to birth control.
code red is a puzzle piece to spark a much-needed conversation about all the ways women are exploited in a system that prioritizes profits and patriarchy. The creators involved also use the film’s official Facebook and Instagram pages to highlight the organizations Poon and other crew members get involved with that support women’s rights and aim to end period poverty. It’s an example of the many ways that film and storytelling can be tools for progressive change.
The short is currently making the rounds at several film festival screenings and will hopefully be available for wider consumption in the near future. The public trailer can be viewed here.